Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to teach a class on making comics and graphic novels to a group of 13-16 year-olds. Teaching comics is not something new to me–over the last couple of years I’ve given nearly two dozen workshops on everything from writing for comics, to developing characters, making one-page comics, and making a graphic novel for publication. The large majority of workshops I’ve given in the past have been an hour or two long in a single day, but this class was scheduled to meet for three hours each day for five days. That’s 15 hours of comics!

In planning the curriculum, I decided early on to focus on just five aspects of comics: terminology, storytelling, character development, page layout and concept. There is so much that we could cover, so I wanted to focus on the parts of comics that I thought were most important to keeping the students excited about comics. With each mini lesson and activity I planned, I tried to incorporate each topic to keep the class and students focused. When we created a four panel autobiographic comic, we used panel and gutter shapes, sizes and placement to our advantage. We talked about page and panel composition and how the size and placement of object guides the reader’s eye. We worked out drawings in our sketchbooks and developed the characters and story before drawing them with ink on bristol board. Same thing when we made our pass-along jam comic, and when me made our mini comics.

I’d like to start a short series of posts here on this blog that covers everything we talked about in class. This is post #1. I’ll include all handouts and activities and give examples where possible. If you are teaching a class on comics, or would like to learn more about making your own comics, feel free to leave your comments and questions below. Let’s figure this whole “making comics” thing together!

On to PART 2!

If you’re interesting in learning how to write and draw your own comics, check out my book Let’s Make Comics! An Activity Book to Create, Write, and Draw Your Own Cartoons.

A light-hearted interactive guide to comics and cartoon-making that uses an activity book format and creatively stimulating prompts to teach the fundamentals of cartooning in a fun and easy-to-follow fashion.

From a working cartoonist and comic book making instructor, this all-ages activity book uses humorous and informative one-page comics and exercise prompts to guide young readers (and readers who are young at heart) through easy-to-master lessons on the skills needed to make comics. The activities cover a range of essential comics-making tasks from creating expressions for characters to filling in blank panels to creating original characters and placing them in adventures of their own. Each exercise can stand on its own or work together with others in the book to stimulate creativity via the comics medium. In the end, readers who complete the activities inside the book itself will have created several comics of their own, and will have generated many ideas for more sequential art creations.

If you’d like to read my next graphic novel for FREE and before it’s published, sign up for my First Readers Club here.


13 Comments Add yours

  1. Mitch says:

    Excellent! I’ll be applying everything I learn through these posts.


    1. I’m sure you know most (if not all) of what we covered, but hopefully it at least creates some sparks.


  2. RoosterTree says:

    Yes, please! I’ve already tried once to teach comics-creations to kids. They loved it (feedback from parents), but I knew I was talking above their heads. Having some help breaking comics down to basics, & also speaking in a way that is age appropriate, would be so appreciated!


    1. That’s awesome! What age group did you teach? I do a very different kind of workshop for younger kinds, but this really seemed to connect with the 13-16 year-olds.


      1. RoosterTree says:

        I was hoping for that demo, too. But my town (village) only has about 2000 people, & with that, we (through the local library) attracted 3 kids, aged 8-10, for 3 two-hour days during March break. I’m not discouraged by that, only by my lack of experience. Might you blog an instructional for tweens after this series?


      2. Jess Smart Smiley says:

        There are definite drawbacks to having large class sizes, so count yourself lucky! I don’t have much experience, either, but it’s easy enough to take something home every day. I learned loads from teaching, which is a big part of why I’m so excited to share what we did. It worked and I was half-surprised!

        For the younger children, I usually do more project-based workshops. Will you remind me to post about them if I forget?


      3. RoosterTree says:

        Oh yes, I was thankful – I’d hoped for 6-8 students, but 3 was perfect, as it allowed me to be one-on-one with whomever needed it. I will gladly send you a friendly reminder after this series. In the meantime, I think the idea of being project-based rather than technique-based is a great hint for me to consider for the younguns. Thanks again!


      4. Jess Smart Smiley says:

        I’m with you–just trying to figure things out as I go 😛


  3. ricctp6 says:

    Forget teaching kids! This is also perfect for “sort of” adults like myself


    1. Jess Smart Smiley says:

      Hi, Taryn! I hope it’s something you can use. Part 2 is on its way!


  4. Thank you so much for writing this! It’s a wonderful ressource!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s